After two vital away wins in four days at Havant & Waterlooville and Barrow, Orient returned home for a potentially pivotal clash with top of the table Wrexham last Saturday. Anyone familiar with the O’s track record in live TV matches will appreciate that confidence was far from high amongst the Orient faithful going into this one.
The lunchtime kick-off also threw Mrs Football Nerd and I a bit of a curveball, as while there was no question that a pre-match pint (or indeed two!) was going to be required ahead of such a tense match, our usual haunt of the Leyton Star seemed that little bit further away, so we decided that as for midweek evening games, the better option would be the Technical.
To our utter consternation it seemed that a fair proportion of the home support and a surprisingly large travelling party form North Wales had been thinking along similar lines. The panic-inducing size of the queue forced a rethink and we headed for the Coach & Horses a hostelry we hadn’t frequented since the heady days of Orient’s last promotion challenge back in 2014.
While busy, our new venue at least offered the chance of service and space to stand, while its recent refurb meant that it was added to the options for future pre-match refreshment. Although being highly superstitious as football obsessives always are, we spent a significant part of the time fretting about what impact this change to our routine would have on the outcome of such an important match!
A quick clandestine exit via the gate in the beer garden saw us reach the entrance to the East Stand in a matter of minutes. As we took up our seats it soon became apparent that our friends from North Wales had indeed travelled in significant numbers: a total of 931 filling out most of the away end- a highly impressive turnout given the 12:35 kick-off time and the nearly 200 miles they had had to cover. They certainly created an atmosphere, for once sparking the home fans into life right from the start of the match.
There seemed a renewed purpose and intent about Orient; almost as if the realisation had hit that if they were going to escape this division and secure a return to the promised land of the Football League, they needed to re-find their early season form and quickly. The newly reshaped formation comprising three centre backs and Maguire-Drew operating as a number ten behind strikers Bonne and Simpson gave the O’s a bigger attacking threat than we have seen for a good few weeks, in fact since Josh Koroma pulled up injured back in January.
Wrexham for their part were proving a resolute obstacle, disrupting the play and frustrating the home side as much as they could. The gusting wind probably didn’t help either and while the game was an intriguing battle it wasn’t exactly end-to-end free-flowing football, although in fairness clashes between teams placed so close together at the top of the league rarely are.
As the game wore on, it started to feel that one key chance for either side would decide the outcome, and so it proved, with just twenty minutes left a loose ball in the area trickled to Big Marv who let fly and beat Lainton at his near post with the benefit of at least one deflection. It was a vital goal with a stroke of good fortune from an unlikely source but none of the home support cared in the slightest as we all went wild.
There were one or two slightly nervy moments but in the end Orient held on to secure all three points and nine in a week to seize back the momentum in the race for the one automatic promotion place.
With the games coming thick and fast it was on to Aldershot away just four days later, and a game that in all honesty represented a seemingly tricky obstacle and one from which most O’s fans would have accepted, albeit grudgingly, a point. Work commitments and frankly a dose of common sense(!) meant that the missus and I ruled out a trip to ‘picturesque’ Aldershot on a storm-swept Tuesday evening; contenting ourselves instead with score updates on our phones. Anyone who has followed an important match this way will know that it is a torturous endeavour to say the very least.
On the twentieth check of my phone in just over half an hour came the news that Orient had scored and just as I was looking to see who it was, the score clicked up to 0-2, Josh Coulson nodding in two corners in quick succession. For the remainder of the game we futilely tried to distract ourselves by watching TV, but in reality both of our minds were at the Recreation Ground, willing the lads to hold on. Trepidation set in with the news that the Shots had pulled one back from a spot-kick but in the end Justin Edinburgh’s men held firm for another crucial three points.
After a wobbly run of form since the turn of the year it feels like the ship has been righted, the change in formation and the new signings have strengthened the team again and they have re-established their momentum. Twelve points out of twelve keeps us three points clear of Solihull Moors, four ahead of Wrexham with a game in hand, six ahead of Salford and seven ahead of Fylde with just nine more games to go.
For now we go into a two week sojourn during which we can ‘enjoy’ the two legs of the FA Trophy semi-final, content in the knowledge that when the league campaign resumes with the visit of AFC Fylde, our fate is very much still in our own hands.